Teaching children to be prepared in emergencies

Activity books, videos, and other resources can help parents, caregivers and teachers prepare young children for emergencies.

A tornado during a thunderstorm.
Photo by Ralph W. lambrecht from Pexels

Even children who are not yet reading can be involved in preparing for an emergency. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has one source of materials, Ready Wrigley, which targets children ages 2-8. They offer four books in both English and Spanish; each 20-page book addresses a particular natural disaster. Whether the topic is tornado, hurricane, earthquake or winter weather, these books follow super-dog Ready Wrigley as she helps her family prepare for that emergency. Children learn basic information about the specific disaster being addressed, the best way to respond during and after that type of emergency, and items to include in an emergency kit for family members and for pets.

Having a family communication plan for emergencies that children and parents complete together is strongly recommended. Pages in the book are very interactive and teach important concepts via coloring, matching, word search, mazes, hidden pictures, decoding and similar activities. A link to the CDC’s Ready Wrigley website is provided at the end of each book for parents who wish to access other educational materials or learn more about disaster preparedness.

In addition to the four books, the website offers simple and useful forms that can be downloaded, printed, and completed with your child. These include a family communication plan, an emergency kit checklist, a pet emergency kit checklist and a backpack emergency card. During an emergency, very young children may be upset and unable to remember important information needed to contact their parents or caregivers. The backpack card lists essential information about the child including any special needs, medical conditions or known allergies, and provides vital information for contacting their parents or caregivers.

After using these materials, parents and other caregivers may want to explore additional disaster preparedness materials available from other organizations. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network has two children’s books that feature a pair of mice, Trinka and Sam, who experience emergencies. In “The Rainy Windy Day,” available in English and Spanish, the emergency is a hurricane while in “The Day the Earth Shook,” available in English and Japanese, an earthquake occurs. These books are designed to help young children and their families talk about their feelings if they have experienced a similar emergency or live in an area where hurricanes or earthquakes are common. At the back of each book is a guide to help parents and caregivers use the storybook with children.

Sesame Street is another source of emergency preparedness materials, with English and Spanish language versions. Their Let’s Get Ready: Planning Together for Emergencies” helps adults prepare young children for emergencies while Here for Each Other: Helping Families After Emergencies” suggest strategies that adults can use to respond in age-appropriate ways to children after an emergency has occurred. Both sets of materials include online videos and tips, downloadable guides, and mobile apps.

Several other organizations offer disaster-related resources for families with children. Save the Children’s Get Ready Get Safe program offers disaster checklists for parents and child care professionals, tip sheets for protecting children in disasters, and links to other helpful resources offered by various government and private agencies. One example is The Office of Human Services Emergency Preparedness & Response which offers extensive lists of preparedness, response and recovery resources for early childhood education providers and children and families on their website.

Michigan State University Extension is another source of excellent information for parents and caregivers. Visit their Family section, especially the Caregiving and Early Childhood Development pages to find informative articles, a listing of events and programs, and instructions for accessing MSU Extension experts should you have additional questions.

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